48 ways to transform creativity: act five
A view from Sue Unerman

48 ways to transform creativity: act five

Why it pays to think like a shaman and see the bigger, long-term picture.

There are 48 techniques that can transform the creativity of the work that you do. Here’s another one. Ask yourself, beyond the brief, how does this deliver really long-term success?

Shamanism is one of the oldest belief systems. Beliefs incorporate a strong sense of family, ancestry and animism, the idea that spirits exist in every natural object, making respect for the environment core. 

“Mankind does not end its existence because sickness or some other accident kills it animal spirit down here on earth. We live on.” Nalungiaq, Netsilik woman

Clearly, with this perspective comes responsibility to the spirits of your ancestors that still surround you, and a long-term perspective about your descendants and their environment, reaching aeons into the past and into the future.

Contrast this with the immediate and short-term results driving many careers. Does your boss set you objectives with key performance measures checked monthly or quarterly? Do you get a reward or bonus only for meeting or exceeding them in the next 12 months?

Is the brief you’re working on focused on immediate returns or does it have any KPI for the long term?

The ad business is in sharp growth in the UK. Brian Wieser, Group M’s Global president of business intelligence, has admitted surprise at the growth of the ad business in 2021, saying: “It is expanding much faster than we anticipated.” 

The UK is the fastest growth territory, with 35% forecast for 2021 (despite only 2.6% decline in 2020), and no let up in 2022. More than three-quarters of adspend is digital, in digital media where immediate results are available fastest. 

Does this mean short termism is inevitable in UK marketing and media?

Not, of course, if you take lessons from the IPA databank, where businesses are advised to split long-term versus short-term investments 60:40, and where digital businesses are called out to a bigger long term cut of 70:30.

Not if you look to many corporate businesses’ recommitment to the long term in their annual reports. Some chief executives now consider not only the triple, not only the quadruple but the quintuple bottom line as a priority. So not just profit (and stakeholder management), but also people, planet, ethics and equity (ie fairness for society at large).

Belonging, a bestseller in the business ethics category, is packed full of evidence that if you start with people, ethics and equity you will drive profits in the medium and long term. 

But of course it’s not just about what your boss or business says. Its what motivates you to get out of bed each morning and bring your best self to work. Feeling like you belong is crucial. You must also consider your personal legacy. 

Best-selling academic and business consultant Clayton Christiansen (creator of the theory of disruptive innovation) wrote: “On the last day of class, I ask my students to turn theoretical lenses on themselves, to find cogent answers to three questions: first, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail? Though the last question sounds lighthearted, it’s not. Two of the 32 people in my Rhodes scholar class spent time in jail. Jeff Skilling of Enron fame was a classmate of mine at HBS. These were good guys – but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction… One of the theories that gives great insight on the first question – how to be sure we find happiness in our careers – is from Frederick Herzberg, who asserts that the powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognised for achievements.”

Faced with any challenge, however short term the brief might appear, try to see the bigger, more long-term, more expansive picture to get to a truly creative and truly satisfying solution.  

Late in 2021, Professor Philippa Snare, senior vice-president EMEA at The Trade Desk, said: “I don’t think that you can build legacy brands without taking a longer-term view.” 

Take a longer-term perspective. Ask: “How does this deliver really long-term success?” 

Think like a shaman, consider what legacy your work on the brand delivers for the wider world and for the next generations.

Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom

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